Princeton Personality Jean Stratton
Former Township Mayor Jim Floyd Is Committed to Positive Change
Jim Floyd is no stranger to hard work. Early in his boyhood, he developed a strong work ethic and a determination to see a project through to completion. Later, whether as a college student, business executive, Mayor of Princeton Township, or community activist, he has tackled issues with energy, discipline, and dedication. Seeking ways to remedy ills, promote equal opportunity, and encourage communication among groups has been his priority.
Born in Trenton in 1922, he was the oldest son of John and Adeline Floyd. Siblings included a brother Samuel and sisters Daisy and Mary. Two other children died before Jim was born.
Growing up in Trenton in the late 1920s and '30s consisted of hard work, good times, and sharing with others, he recalls. It was the midst of the Great Depression, and the need for sharing was emphasized in his family.
"I really admired my dad," says Mr. Floyd. "I understood where he was coming from. He practiced what he preached. He had a variety of jobs, including working for the railroad and also for factories in Trenton. He was a superintendent of the Sunday School, and he loved working with the church. We all attended church regularly.
"My dad never had a car," continues Mr. Floyd. "He walked or took the trolley. When he was walking, if someone came up to him and needed help, he would give them our home address, and my mother would give them something to eat. My father had his ideals, and he simply said, 'You've got to be a person of ideals and work and help other people. You need a relationship with people.
"He was also a great baseball fan. He loved baseball, and would go to see the games of the old Negro League."
Jim was expected to do Saturday chores at home, including mopping the kitchen floor and taking the rugs outside to beat them, but once he was finished, he loved to go to a Saturday movie matinee.
"We lived in East Trenton, and we went downtown to the movies on State Street. I was a great fan of the Westerns, and I always cheered for the native Americans!"
He also exhibited signs of a budding entrepreneur, selling newspapers to help earn money, and as he recalls, "The Trenton Times was then on Stockton Street, and you could buy the paper for a penny. I'd buy 25 and then take them back to our neighborhood and sell them for two cents. The profit was my quarter for a hot dog, root beer, and movie or something at the Five and Ten Cent store on Saturday."
"When we sold the papers, we'd always shout 'EXTRA'," he adds, "and I remember selling the papers during the time of the Lindbergh baby's kidnapping and the trial."
Jim was a good student and relished the opportunities school presented. "I loved it," he says. "I enjoyed the challenge of being better than the others, and I worked hard. I loved art, and I especially liked to draw and paint."
In fact, during his elementary and junior high school years, he took additional art classes on Saturday mornings at the Trenton School of Industrial Arts.
"The Trenton school system was neighborhood-oriented," he explains. "I went to a neighborhood elementary school which was totally integrated, and our neighborhood was also totally integrated. There was real diversity. We knew everyone on our street and on the next street. The streets tended to be ethnically-oriented. Two streets over, it was primarily Italian."
"But the family next door to us was Polish, and their son was my closest friend. His father was a father to us, as my father was to them. I really missed him when their family moved. There was a bond between us."
When he attended junior high, Jim went to the Lincoln School, which was predominantly African-American. "It had a great influence on me," he reports. "The teachers there took the students seriously. Dr. P. J. Hill was the principal, and he was an inspiration to all the students. He encouraged us to go on to higher education, and he secured scholarships for many of the students."
"I am enriched by having gone to Lincoln School because I met the sons and daughters of African-American professionals doctors and lawyers. I have friends to this day who were my classmates in junior high school."
Although he suffered from asthma, Jim enjoyed sports, particularly basketball and track, specializing in the high jump. "Our track coach, Pete Morgan was a remarkable coach and a great inspiration to me," remembers Mr. Floyd. "He went on to coach at Princeton University."
Radio was a big focus of entertainment in the 1920s and '30s, and Jim and his family often listened together.
The Lone Ranger
"I remember waiting to hear the news and the reports of the famous newsman Lowell Thomas," he recalls, "and I was a big fan of The Lone Ranger and Tonto. I also loved the music especially jazz and the Big Bands, with Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. And I remember the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers."
Although his childhood was happy and relatively free of discrimination, he did come face-to-face with racism at a young age.
"My mother's father was a minister outside of Savannah, Ga.," says Mr. Floyd. "We would go to visit, and my first real experience with discrimination was on the train going south. The train, which was a steam engine, was segregated, and we had to sit in the first car right behind the engine. I remember going out of Washington, all the soot and steam came in, and I had a hard time with my asthma."
When he went to Trenton Central High School, Jim continued his interest in art, and further developed his business skills, emphasizing his bent as an entrepreneur.
"When I worked on a farm in Hightstown in the summer, we'd pick 100 bags of potatoes for five cents a bag. It was sunrise to sundown. We'd start at 6 a.m., and by mid-day, it could be hot as blazes!"
"The farmer said if I could get some extra pickers, I'd earn an extra penny for each bag. So I rounded up some friends, and then when I'd saved enough, I'd go to F. W. Donnelly in Trenton to buy a sports coat. I liked to go to the men's clothing stores, and I enjoyed having nice clothes."
After graduation in 1939, Jim worked at a drug store in Trenton before attending West Virginia State College in 1940. Because of his asthma, he was not able to serve in the military in World War II.
"I majored in art and political science at college, and for a while, I thought I'd be an 'artistic lawyer'," he says with a smile. "The good part about an all African-American college was that you met African-Americans from all over the country and even the world. And, many you continued to stay in touch with. A classic example is when I was transferred to Cleveland for my work in the 1970s, we knew people there I had gone to school with. It's great networking."
Jim excelled in college, playing basketball, serving as president of his class, president of his fraternity, graduating magna cum laude, and third in his class. His work ethic and leadership qualities continued to help him achieve.
"I set a regimen for study," he explains. "My roommates were great guys, but my study habits were a little different than theirs. I'd get up at 5 a.m. to study for two hours before I'd have to report to my job in the bakery at the dining room. These were all good learning experiences, and I also made some extra money by selling pies."
In addition, he worked as a student art assistant at college, and it was also while there that he saw the value of active engagement in the issues of the day.
"Most African-American colleges are land grant colleges," he explains. "The federal government had stipulated that land grant colleges should have ROTC units. Ours didn't, and while I am a pacifist, I am also an activist. I went to Washington to petition the government, and we got an ROTC unit."
It was also a time when he became very much aware of the broader picture in the society, in particular regarding the "Separate but Equal" policy in education.
"It was while at West Virginia College that I learned the true meaning of 'separate but unequal,' which later manifested itself in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954," explains Mr. Floyd. "The president of the college was very engaged in these issues, and he encouraged our involvement."
After graduation in 1944, he went to work for Stokes Molded Products in Trenton. "I had extensive experience in mechanical drawing, and they needed a draftsman in the engineering department," he recalls.
His life took another turn in 1946, when he married Fannie Reeves, whom he had met at a party in Trenton. She had been born and brought up in Princeton, and the couple settled there on Quarry Street.
His career went well, and as he recalls, "Stokes was later purchased by Electric Storage Battery Company in Philadelphia, and they planned to use Stokes as a training ground. I was only one of three African-American salaried employees, and when I was chief draftsman, I met a chap who became plant manager, and he said the way to go was in management. So, I got out of engineering and into management positions.
"It was a good company to be with," continues Mr. Floyd. "The president of the company was a person of principle, who believed opportunities should not be denied, but available to all people."
During this time, two sons, James, Jr. and Michael, were born to the Floyds, and Mr. Floyd began to be more and more engaged in community issues, especially in the areas of housing and equal opportunity.
"Very early on, I became involved in the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church. The minister was Benjamin J. Anderson, whose mission was immediate outreach to migrant workers and addressing the lack of open occupancy housing in Princeton.
"We had to address the fact that the town needed to develop an active social concern for those who had been denied. This became especially pronounced later in the 1960s, but even earlier in the '50s, the Princeton Association of Human Rights (PAHR) had been set up. The exciting thing was that it was a diverse group of people in town who set about tackling these issues and trying to remedy them. It's where I cut my eye teeth."
Mr. Floyd became more and more active, serving on the Borough Zoning Board of Adjustment and helping to identify discriminatory housing policies and other civil rights violations.
In 1961, the family moved from the Borough to the Township, and he served on the Planning Board and other municipal boards and committees.
"After I had worked on these issues, some of my friends and colleagues urged me to run for Township Committee," he notes. "I was elected as a Democrat in 1969, and it was the first time two Democrats the other was Tom Hartmann were elected at the same time. Before, it had been primarily Republican."
"We broke the Republican monopoly," states Tom Hartmann, a long time associate and colleague of Mr. Floyd. "Jim is the conscience of Princeton. His concern has been particularly for that part of the community whose voice was not always heard, that didn't have influence or power. He has been very, very important in getting housing for low and middle income people. Without him, I doubt a lot of that would have been accomplished. He has also been very active in getting a human rights and civil rights commission in Princeton."
"He has been a force in the community and continues to be. His concern has truly been for the total community, a voice of concern for what happens to all the people. I have known him since the 1960s. He's a wonderful guy, and I respect him very, very much."
For his part, Mr. Floyd, who later served as Mayor, remarks, "I was pleasantly surprised to be elected. A foray into politics in Princeton Township had not been high on my list of what I wanted to do. I was proud of being Mayor, however. Proud that the party I was affiliated with had the top elected position, and I was proud as an African-American.
"I enjoyed being on the Committee for two reasons," he continues, (1) People knew I was very strong on housing regarding open occupancy and affordability. I had strong feelings about civil rights and the Civil Rights Commission; and (2) it was an opportunity to express my ideas and hopefully to see them implemented."
"As I look back, I give Jack Wallace, the Mayor before me, and a Republican, a lot of the credit. We were able to pass a resolution a Declaration of Need as a precursor to Princeton Community Housing. Without that, we wouldn't have Princeton Community Housing."
Mr. Floyd is very much aware of the need for weighing the needs of the diverse groups in the community and trying to create policies that are fair and equitable to all residents.
"When I was Mayor, I would have people come up to me with their own personal concerns," he notes. "You listen to all of them and try to understand it each person speaks with his or her own particular concern at the moment and all of that has to be weighed and balanced with what kind of ordinances are formulated. And your responsibility always is to serve all in the community."
"It's important to understand the interface of people and that Princeton is a conglomerate of neighborhoods, often separate and unequal, but it is necessary to serve all the people."
After having been elected twice to Township Committee, Mr. Floyd stepped down in his second term because of a career transfer to Cleveland when he became Director of Employee Relations for the Automotive Group of Electric Storage Battery Company. The Floyds stayed there for five and a half years, but always knew they would return to Princeton, despite enjoying Cleveland.
After coming back in 1977, Mr. Floyd was promoted to general manager of the plant and then to Vice President of Personnel for the company. He also resumed his role as a community activist, serving on numerous boards and committees and encouraging others to become engaged as well. He has been involved with Corner House since its inception and continues to serve on the Corner House Foundation Board. He is a charter member of Princeton Community Housing, and is on its board.
He was a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Housing, a member of the board of directors for the Princeton Association of Human Rights, and officer of the Princeton Housing group, which built two open occupancy developments in the Princeton area.
Mr. Floyd has always favored consolidation of the two Princetons, and twice was a member of the Princeton Committee on Consolidation. "I have always thought consolidation was more practical and beneficial to the two municipalities," he explains.
In addition, he is or has been on the board of the Princeton Cemetery, the United Way, the Association for the Advancement of Mental Health, and he initiated the summer engineering program at Princeton University for black middle school youth. He also founded host family sponsors for black students at Princeton University.
He is a member of the Princeton Committee NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and a life member of NAACP. Mr. Floyd continues to serve as an elder and clerk of session of the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church.
Among the many honors that have come his way is the Gerard B. Lambert Community Service Award, which he received in 1986. The citation reads in part: "A wonderful and dedicated citizen, whose leadership, sound judgement and caring have made a significant difference in the lives of his neighbors all of us."
Mr. Floyd was honored with the First Baptist Youth Board Award this year, and he and his wife were co-recipients of the Community House of Princeton University Honors Award. He also received the Princeton University Community House Legacy of Service "Living Legend" Award.
As his long-time friend Donald Moore remarks: "Jim has many admirers. I admire him for his honesty, his tenacity, and his 'take-no-prisoners' approach. He deals with situations fairly and does a tremendous amount of research on all of his subjects. Jim is truly an icon who deserves more than applause for leading many of us through problems that few of us were willing to tackle."
Although he retired from the Electric Storage Battery Company in 1982, followed by five years as Vice President of Personnel at ETS, Mr. Floyd shows no sign of slowing down. His days continue to be filled with meetings and advocacy sessions. In some cases, he is encouraged by the direction Princeton has taken, but in others, he is disappointed and sees the need for harder work and more attention given to issues beneficial to the entire community.
"In the 1960s the days of heightened civil rights involvement the houses of worship were in the forefront of social activity and in the inclusion of all people," he explains. "Now, I'm afraid they are just a gathering of people one day a week, but not a force for outreach anymore. There is less social consciousness than there was before."
"I'd like to change those things in Princeton that belie the ability and knowledge that is here. I abhor the fact that institutions and relationships with people of influence can take precedence over a plan of action that is good for the whole. That still happens here.
"There are still people who have a concern, but they are reluctant to participate or take any kind of action before counting noses and determining whether people of influence will come on board. This is not a sincere attempt to try to understand the issues," he continues.
"Unfortunately, there's a defensiveness today that manifests itself in not going beyond yourself, in sharing ideas, expressing concern, and being part of the solution. Some people have given up, others feel intimidated. But you can't live any place and not think of the good of the whole."
Mr. Floyd is also concerned about the "creeping institutional encroachment" that he feels is becoming more prevalent here. He has been an opponent of the proposed expansion of the Arts Council, which he believes is too large and out of character for the surrounding neighborhood.
"No one has the right to say to the Zoning Board or Planning Board that existing ordinances should arbitrarily be changed," he points out. "It's creeping institutional encroachment."
His friend of many years, Willie Mae Tadlock, who is also active in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood association, says of Mr. Floyd: "He is a very forthright, thoughtful, and forceful person. He keeps us on target and reminds us to concentrate on the issue at hand. That is what I really like about him. He's a good man. If you have Jim in your corner, you've got a good man."
When Mr. Floyd takes a rare break from his activities as an engaged citizen, he can be found listening to jazz or perhaps taking a cruise with his wife.
"I love jazz," he says enthusiastically. "I go to the Jazz Festival in New Orleans, and I enjoy hearing Winton Marsalis. I also have the entire video set of the Ken Burns TV series on jazz."
"My wife and I also love cruising," he adds. "We have probably cruised 40 or 50 times, including to the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Alaska, and Bermuda. We especially love Bermuda."
But they are also strongly attached to their home town. As Mrs. Floyd says, "Jim loves being involved in the community, and he always hopes to make a difference."
Despite what he considers its shortcomings, Mr. Floyd remains hopeful about Princeton's future. "I like the fact that there is always a challenge in Princeton, and I look forward to seeing some of the changes come about that indicate we can think together about the good of the whole."
"At 82 years old, I continue to live for the day when people will have an understanding and exchange of ideas and a willingness to see the other point of view a willingness to realize that we can change direction if we have made a mistake."
"I have always tried to work with people in the interest of the broader social spectrum and in establishing relationships that make a community, and always trying to improve it. This continues to be the biggest issue facing Princeton today."